0.05.2018 – The Aquarius, the humanitarian rescue vessel hired by ‘SOS Mediterranée’ and run in partnership with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is making its way to the port of Catania with 105 people on board, who were rescued last Sunday by a Spanish vessel. After two long days of bureaucratic stalling, the ship received the authorisation from the relevant maritime authorities to transfer the passengers and, following this, the indication of a port of safety.
On Sunday 105 people, including women and children, were rescued in the Mediterreanean by the Astral, a vessel of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, waving the British flag. The transfer to a more appropriate vessel was rendered necessary by the precarious conditions on board the clipper (30m long).
The UK Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre contacted the Aquariusi at dawn on Monday, providing the coordinates for a meeting place with the Astral to assist the 105 people if necessary.
The Aquariu offered its availability to receive the passengeres but first asked for written authorization from the competent maritime authority.
Long hours of diplomatic negotiation ensured between the Italian and British authorities while the health and hygiene conditions of the 105 survivors on board the Astral worsened.
After a day of waiting, on Monday night the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Rome finally unblocked the situation, authorising their transfer to the Aquarius, where they received assistence from the team of ‘SOS Mediterranée’ and the doctors from ‘Doctors without Borders’.
On Tuesday morning the Aquarius informed the Italian maritims authority – which had authorised the transfer the day before – that they intended to leave the SAR zone given the imminent worsening o meterological conditions, requesting a consequent indication of t “place of safety” where they could land the 105 people rescued at sea. The port of safety was indicated in the late afternoon on Tuesday.
The Aquarius is currently on route towards the port of Catania, where it will land at 8am on Thursday with the 105 shiprweck survivors.
The interceptions of the Libyan Coast Guard
Among the people welcomed on board the Aquarius there are eight women and 34 minors, including six children under 13 years of age. They come from different countries, including Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea and Sudan. Most of them claim to be escaping Libya due to the instability of the country.
“Last July I tried to leave by the Libyans stopped me in the sea and brought me back to land. I was thrown into prison again, for five months and one week”, a 21-year-old woman from Nigeria told a volunteer from ‘SOS Mediterranée’. “There was no toilet in the prison, very little food, no clothers. We were abused and beaten. One day someone cam and paid for me to get out of there. But then I had to pay back the money. I decided to escape again. When we saw the rescue boat on Saturday getting near to us, we were so scared that it might have been the Libyans.”
On Sunday the Aquarius witnessed the interception of a rubber boat by the Libyan Coast Guard in international waters, 24 nautical miles from the Libyan coast, to the East of Tripoli. Through their binocluars, the volunteers from ‘SOS Mediterranéeì saw various people throw themselves into the water. After the professional rescuers had twice offered assistance, the Libyan Coast Guard instead ordered the ship to distance itself from the operation being carried out.
“The current confusion in the coordination of sea rescues which we are seeing is the consequence of European policies of externalising the management of migration in the Mediterranean, approced by the Malta Declaration of February 2017. The results are in front of our eyes: a fall in the number of people who arrive alive in Italy but an increase in the number of dead; a derease in the number of rescue operations effected by humanitarian missions but an increase in insecurity at sea due to an unclear transfer of responsability to Libyan authorities” said Valeria Calandra, President of ‘SOS Mediterrané’.
“In the light of the shameful and unacceptable treatment of the 105 survivors by European authorities, on 9th May – ‘Europe Day’ – the SOS Mediterranée appeals to the leaders of Europe to urgently re-examine their own direction. We call on them to provide maximum priority to the rescue and protection of lives at sea, following the principles of solidarity and humanity on which the European Union is based.”
Project “OpenEurope” – Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus
Translation by Richard Braude